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Say Sam Al and William Heidt arrive at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel Hotel after an inspection of Prey Lang forest yesterday.
Say Sam Al and William Heidt arrive at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel Hotel after an inspection of Prey Lang forest yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Officials survey Prey Lang from sky

Making a dramatic arrival by helicopter at the Sofitel Hotel in Phnom Penh after a flyover of Prey Lang forest, Environment Minister Say Sam Al and US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt discussed a plan to make the Kingdom’s largest forest a protected area.

Speaking to reporters after the chopper’s touchdown, Heidt said officials “saw both the very nice condition of the central part of that forest but also threats around the edges, particularly on the southern border”, adding that the purpose of the flyover was to bring the environment, agriculture and interior ministries together to “think about how best to protect that area going forward”.

Heidt also noted the longstanding commitment to protect Prey Lang through USAID’s Supporting Forestry and Biodiversity Project.

Environment Minister Sam Al said the plan for Prey Lang intends to protect an estimated 300,000 hectares of forest, however the details will only be made public following a workshop with civil society and international partners.

“Prey Lang forest is the strategic wealth of Cambodians, so the involved partners have a responsibility to protect this forest,” he said, recognising the continued threat posed by logging and land grabbing.

In addition to Prey Lang, Sam Al continued, the government plans to designate five other areas as protected, although he did not name them.

Chea Sok Hoeun, a member of the Prey Lang Community Network in Stung Treng province, said the government should protect more than the planned 300,000 hectares and include local communities and civil society in the process.

“We have the experts . . . The ones that work on the core task are the ones who work inside the forest,” he said.

For the director of the Natural Resource Preservation Organization, Chhem Savuth, the move to protect Prey Lang was long overdue, and the government’s estimate of how much forest remains is generous.

By his count, about 250,000 hectares of forest remain. “If the arrangement and management is done effectively, we believe that though it is late, at least we can preserve the small trees and the forest will last.”

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